It has been revealed in a Freedom of Information request to the University of Leeds that the Converse Column, situated at the southeast end of campus, cost the University £117,241 to build in 2018. On top of this, it was revealed there is an additional £1,450 per annum being spent on running costs. This means that in the next ten years, the column will have cost £14,500.
The column was part of a £38 million investment into the construction of the adjacent Nexus Building. This means that the Converse column cost 0.3% of the money invested into the Nexus building construction and 0.02% of the University’s total expenditure in 2018-19 according to their Annual Report.
Since it arrived at the intersection between the University of Leeds campus and the city centre in July 2019, many students have wondered what exactly the nine-meter rotating column, layered with text, is for— or even what it says. The column has also been dubbed the “Nexus column” by some students.
The University’s expenditure on the public art commission has inspired mixed opinions. In light of the recent UCU strike action, third year student and Liberation Co-ordinator Safyan Rahman believes the commission is in poor taste:
“It’s pretty disturbing to hear the full costs of this pretty useless column, given the current climate on campus. With staff and students being out on the picket line for several weeks, demanding equal pay for women and ethnic minorities and an end to the precarious working conditions postgraduate staff are subjected to, it seems both morally and financially irresponsible”.
Safyan concluded that the Converse Column represents “reckless expenditure” and epitomizes the wider marketization of the University. He suggested that the money could have been used to improve the University’s mental health services.
The University of Leeds declined to comment.
On the other hand, some students value the University’s efforts to invest in public art. Phoebe Watkins, a third year student said “As a piece of art, I quite like it. Personally, I love seeing art on campus, and I think it’s thought-provoking.”
In response to criticisms that the University’s spending on the sculpture has been misguided, Phoebe said “I don’t see the commissioning of art for campus and the fair pay of lecturers to be polar opposites. I think there’s quite a lot of money to go around”.
Third year History student Justin Atkinson agrees with Phoebe’s sentiments about the commissioning of art on campus, but questions the motives behind the University’s spending:
“I think the Converse Column has become totemic of the broader issue of the University spending millions on new construction and building because it looks good on Open Days, as opposed to spending that money to give staff fair wages”.
The Converse Column was created by Liliane Lijn and references the artist’s own poetry. The commission is just one of many pieces of public art on the University’s campus, alongside Keith Wilson’s Sign for Art (the so-called bacon statue).
Image Credit: University of Leeds Twitter